STUDIO: Koch Lorber Films
MSRP: $29.98
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
• Making-of featurette
• Deleted scenes

The Pitch

“Watch what happens when I take the blinders off this hausfrau!”

The Humans

Martina Gedeck, Robert Seeliger, Peter Davor, Svea Lohde, Lucas Kotaranin.

The Nutshell

Young Nils brings his girlfriend Livia along to his parents’ summer home in Germany. Nils’ mother, Miriam, is instantly suspicious of the girl, who seems mature beyond her years in matters of life, art, and sex. When Livia begins to spend time with a handsome neighbor, Miriam’s senses of jealousy and propriety flare up in a contest destined to be decided by nothing so cold as good, motherly sense.

Don’t worry, kids. They’re married.

The Lowdown

I’m a complete sucker for stories in which the characters act believably, unpredictably, inexplicably, and naturally, all at once. With barely a hint of provocation, I’ll get all sloppy about, say, Faulkner’s Sanctuary for this reason. It’s not a pretty sight, and certainly doesn’t lend me any argumentative credit. (I am deep in argumentative debt, right now, but am making minimum payments.) With that in mind, please bear with me as I French this tight little German movie.

Summer ’04 excels in its defiance of expectation when it comes to character work, but it’s not a hands-on-the-hips brand of defiance. The impression I got was less that of spitting in the face of tradition and more of unconcerned that tradition’s face hovers anywhere nearby. The characters — particularly of Livia, Miriam, and Bill — fall into archetypes only inasmuch as you think a random person on the street does. They’re easy to categorize at a glance, but if you explore them any closer you uncover behaviors liable to surprise you, if not get you arrested.

Under no circumstances attempt to uncover any behaviors in this situation.

This is a hard argument for me to make, claiming that a piece of work is worth your time simply because you haven’t sat down with this particular set of characters before. You also probably haven’t had dinner with the dead skiers of the Dyatlov Pass incident either, have you? Why would that be interesting?

Because context!

Summer ’04 operates inside a pleasant European pastoral scenario. It’s high summer, nothing but good weather, and plenty of time to enjoy dinners outside, games of badminton, and sailing on the wide river. It’s an image that would scream “Freedom!” if screaming weren’t so jarring. No appointments to keep, no investment in the workplace. Bliss.

In the middle of that sort of personal anarchy, young Livia arrives. Initially, her presence seems to carry a Lolita significance. She’s barely a teenager, and her sexual maturity is plainly further advanced than that of her boyfriend, who is several years her elder. Miriam can’t help but notice Livia’s behavior, and does what she can to squelch it. However, by fighting it Miriam has had to acknowledge its presence. Livia possesses a further layer of freedom beyond Miriam’s, beyond that granted by simple summer vacation. Her implied sexuality inspires a jealousy in Miriam, not of sexual fulfillment but of independence.

Just two sharp shoves from being known as Bob and Bob.

This isn’t an overtly sexual film, despite the suggestion of the cover art and box blurb. A couple of explicit scenes show up, but here sex functions much like it does in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, that is as a layered metaphor, applied differently to each character. In the final reckoning, sex isn’t even that important to the plot. Its specter is a catalyst, its presence just a milepost along Miriam’s journey from freedom to more freedom. Martina Gedeck plays Miriam’s awakening as an organic thing, a series of means which reach a stunning end, and she does so with a gracious understatement. It’s almost more generous, the way the audience is trusted to guess at and accept her decisions than if her motivations were spelled out with sympathy.

I’m focusing mainly on Miriam, as the protagonist, but I do want to commend the other four characters and their actors at least briefly. The final ten minutes of the film show a series of increasingly heartbreaking, but mundane, repurcussions of Miriam’s actions, and the whole cast pulls off some terrific work with the restraint of sculptors. In tiny, distant explosions of emotion, Nils and his father move on with their lives. Unable to move beyond Livia’s influence, Miriam’s relationship with Bill glides into a wretched dead zone. Lives end up irrevocably changed and entirely familiar, almost as if mountains were crossed for no other reason than to come back home again.

(Someone stop me. I’m trying to get poetic. That counts against me another 15 points of argumentative debt, at least.)

I keep telling everyone beanies are a classic style. PhD, here I come!

Here’s the short and sweet: I loved this movie, but keep in mind that I also like sitting on the back porch in summer with a glass of tap water and pretending I’m on vacation.

The Package

Pretty slim in the way of bonuses, here. There’s a behind-the-scenes featurette which made me even more fond of Martina Gedeck, and some deleted scenes that offered small character flourishes, but didn’t add much in particular to the progression of Miriam’s decisions.

8 out of 10